Brahms, Symphonies, G. Wand, NDR-Sinfonieorchester
Mozart, Violin Concertos, J. Ehnes, Mozart Anniversary Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, certainly has his detractors, who come out to comment on articles about him, no matter where he is. With this sort of "sour grapes" sentiment, it is hard not to suspect personal bias or revenge as the motivation. Even so, Eschenbach's tendency toward controversy over the years shows that he has some deficiencies in creating consensus among his musicians, which is mostly what being a conductor means these days. Not being privy to the rehearsal process of the NSO or the personal interactions between conductor and musicians, I have only the performance results on which to judge Eschenbach's successes and failures. These successes and failures, as stated above, must rest on the shoulders of both conductor and musicians. Last week's program from the NSO, heard at the final performance on Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, did not make the cut for my December concert picks, largely because the selection of Brahms and Mozart felt like a concession to the conventional. It turned out to be anything but ordinary.
Anne Midgette, From ‘Magic Flute’s’ first sour note, NSO offers little magic on a slipshod night (Washington Post, December 6)
Terry Ponick, NSO, Nurit Bar-Josef in varied all-German program (Washington Times, December 7)
The opening work, the overture to Mozart's Magic Flute, sounded crisp and clean, in contrast to the less unified performance heard the previous night. There were no sour chords as reported of the opening night performance on Thursday, so perhaps musicians and conductor came together after two performances. Mozart's fourth violin concerto (D major, K. 218), performed with an even smaller number of string players, was performed on a subscription concert for the first time since 1970, when David Oistrakh was the soloist. That is exalted company (and a damning comparison) for any violinist, but the NSO's concertmaster, Nurit Bar-Josef, went mostly for elegant restraint and amiability. She played with a lovely tone, rarefying her vibrato for the most part, giving an easy chattiness to the first movement, crowned by the inventive, contrapuntal cadenza by James Ehnes. While the third movement was likewise gracious and playful in temperament, with the NSO accompanying expertly, the second movement tended just slightly to the slow and schmaltzy side. Just as Bar-Josef began that movement's cadenza, an audience member tried to leave the hall but vomited in the aisle before he could exit. It was perhaps another sign that this was just an "off" week for the NSO, but Bar-Josef, a consummate professional, appeared to see the incident but played on without a hitch.